This week’s Poets & Writers‘ prompt:
Write a poem that explores how you were named and the meaning of your name. Include at least one bold lie.
This is an especially interesting prompt for me because I had my name legally changed when I was 28. So, in essence, I named myself. Here’s the first (and only) draft:
I’m one of those people with an initial
for a first name. J. Folks want to know
what it stands for. Sometimes,
I let them guess. You’d be amazed
at the names they come up with:
Julianne, Josephine, Jezebel. Really,
one guy actually thought my name
was Jezebel. Maybe that should tell me
something. Sometimes I tell them
the truth. Sometimes, I lie. Like
with Jezebel. That nameless guy at the bar
probably tells stories about how he met
a real-life Jezebel who went by the deceitful
middle name of Gabriel. What a contraction,
The truth is: my name is not Gabriel either. At least,
it wasn’t. You’d be amazed at what can be done
with twenty-seven dollars and a courthouse.
I could be J. Rock Star if I wanted, or just
J. Rock if poets were as infamous as all that.
As it were, Gabriel was a name born
in my father’s dying. As if his halting breath
was mine. As if that first name grew shallower
with his slow leaving until it could only stand
as a letter, a specter of a name, carried
on the backs of angels.
I like the way the poem opens and maintains a humorous tone until the final stanza where it turns in a more serious direction. At first, I titled it “J. (Jezebel)” – liking the whole Jezebel section of the poem. But, in the end, it didn’t fit with where the poem goes. I don’t really like “J. Gabriel” as a title either, and I think there’s a pretty big shift in terms of rhythm between the poem and the final stanza. And I don’t know what the reader is able to decipher out of the poem – is it clear that I changed my name after my father’s death? I think so, but I’m not sure. Is the turn too hard? Maybe. It’s a poem I’m going to continue working on. Maybe something will come out of it. Who knows? 😉
As always, I’d love to see your own attempts at this fun prompt. Kudos to P&W for this one!